- Transcending the New Woman: Multiethnic Narratives in the Progressive Era
Charlotte J. Rich in her study Transcending the New Woman: Multiethnic Narratives in the Progressive Era interrogates the construct of the New Woman from the differing viewpoints of six lesser-known authors from marginalized North American cultures: Native Americans S. Alice Callahan and Mourning Dove, African American Pauline E. Hopkins, Chinese Anglo-American Sui Sin Far, Mexican American María Cristina Mena, and Polish/ Russian Jewish American Anzia Yezierska.
S(ophia) Alice Callahan (b. 1868-d. 1894), a Muscogee (also Creek) residing in Oklahoma and Texas, published one novel only, Wynema: A Child of the Forest (1891). Mourning Dove, often cited by her Okanogan name Hu-mi-shu-ma, also known as Christine Quintasket (b. 1882/8-d. 1936), spoke Colvile-Okanogan (a Salishan dialect), lived in the U.S. Northwest, and married twice (Mrs. Hector McCleod, Mrs. Fred Galler). Her sole novel was Cogewea, the Half-Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range (1927); she also assembled one collection, Coyote Stories (1933), and wrote a manuscript published posthumously as Mourning Dove: A Salishan Autobiography (1990).1 Rich finds "aesthetic unevenness" in Wynema and Cogewea but suggests that this "very quality calls attention to the competing tasks their authors were attempting to fulfill" (p. 66). Closer examination, she notes, reveals that these texts "perform significant cultural work, educating audiences about the important topical debates of the era in which they were written" (p. 66). Additionally, Callahan and Hu-mi-shu-ma both subordinate New Woman values—though noted as important—to tribal women's empowerment, especially in the face of economic and sexual exploitation.
African American Pauline E(lizabeth) Hopkins (b. 1859-d. 1930), though born in Portland, Maine, lived her life in Boston and its vicinity, where she pursued an active journalistic career, writing a series of essays—"Famous Women of the Negro Race"—appearing in the Colored [End Page 389] American Magazine (November 1901 to October 1902), among many other contributions to this serial that she edited. She also wrote Contending Forces: A Romance of Negro Life North and South (1900), as well as three novels appearing as serializations: Hagar's Daughter: A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice (1901-1902), Winona: A Tale of Negro Life in the South and Southwest (1902), and Of One Blood: or, The Hidden Self (1903).2 Rich discusses Hopkins's public voice, central in the late 1890s and early 1900s, though nearly silenced by the end of her life: her nonfiction essays outspokenly support black women's advancement, while her fiction hedges these possibilities in ambivalent romantic plots. Though supporting such New Woman ideals as "economic independence, . . . advanced education, and professional opportunity" (p. 102), Hopkins found that racial oppressions made achieving these goals harder for her than for white women.
Chinese Anglo-American Sui Sin Far (Chinese Lily), also known as Edith Maude Eaton (b. 1865-d. 1914), was born in England, emigrated with her family to Canada, and spent a large part of her working life in the United States. Her one book, Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912), collected much of her short fiction; an expanded 1995 edition included essays as well.3 Sui Sin Far considers the New Woman construct from her own standpoint in liminal space—in other words, both from within and without the cultures she analyzes. Assuming a trickster's viewpoint, she disrupts an insider's acceptance with her own outsider's critique, whether of Chinese or of U.S. individuals. As Rich concludes, Sui Sin Far's "border subjectivity . . . allowed [her] to engage uniquely with American culture in her writing, and in particular to delineate both the promise and the limitations of the Progressive American New Woman" (p. 135).
Mexican American María Cristina Mena (b. 1893-d. 1965), born to affluence in Mexico City, was educated in the United States from 1907 because of pending revolution. Married to a U.S. citizen, she remained to pursue a writing career of magazine stories published...